FEATURES,  View from the Water

Keep it clean

It’s reasonable, I suppose, to assume open water swimmers prefer to practise their sport in clean water. Nobody really likes swimming into plastic bags or stepping on beer cans. It’s therefore surely in swimmers’ interest to do what they can to minimise the amount of rubbish that gets into the environment.

Our editor, Jonathan, has been trying to reduce his use of single use plastics or even eliminate them completely during June. It’s a challenge set by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to highlight the damage plastics do to the world we live in. It’s proving really hard to stick to, especially when travelling. So much, especially food, is wrapped in plastics that we can’t or don’t recycle.

If we struggle to reduce our usage of non-recyclable products, we can at least ensure we dispose of them properly so that they don’t end up in our hedgerows and waterways. You would have thought that swimmers, with their desire to swim in clean water, would be more conscientious than most about throwing their litter into bins. I’m sorry to report that the evidence I saw last weekend at the Great North Swim didn’t support this assumption.

I took part in the last wave of the day on Saturday. By that time, the changing tent had been trashed, despite the fact that it had a large wheelie bin in the centre. Is it really so hard to walk five paces to throw your gel wrapper in the bin rather than drop it on the floor where you’re changing? Why do people think it’s acceptable to simply drop the envelope in which they received their timing chip or the water bottle they’ve just emptied?

It wasn’t just the changing room. Great Swim employed a team of litter pickers who constantly roamed the site collecting sackfuls of rubbish yet the bins weren’t hard to find. Dropping litter outside is even worse as it could easily be blown into the water.

A couple of weeks ago I saw the same thing at the European Masters Championships. At the end of the day the entire spectator seating area was a mess of discarded food wrappers. Overnight, it all miraculously disappeared, but that’s no excuse for leaving it in the first place.

Fortunately, there are some swimmers out there who try to leave their swimming spots cleaner than how they find them. They take bags with them not to discard but to fill with the rubbish they find so it can be disposed of in a better way. But these people are few and littering is endemic. They will never keep up with the tide of carelessly discarded rubbish until more people dispose of their own properly or reduce its production.

Actually, we’re pretty confident that most H2Open readers are as irritated about carelessly discarded litter as we are and dispose of their rubbish properly but please consider if you can do more. Clear some rubbish from your favourite swimming spot, let someone know you disapprove if they drop litter, think about your use of single use plastics every time you buy something and ask yourself if there’s an alternative.

As swimmers, we benefit more than most from a clean environment. Let’s do more than our share to keep our waterways and oceans fit for swimming.

Image credit: Andy Pearson

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.